Sheepshanks tells of hammerblow to Blues

BELEAGUERED Ipswich Town chairman David Sheepshanks has taken his club's move into administration as a personal and professional hammer blow. But he has come out fighting, with a forthright, open, statement on his club's future, now only partly in the hands of himself and fellow directors.

BELEAGUERED Ipswich Town chairman David Sheepshanks has taken his club's move into administration as a personal and professional hammer blow. But he has come out fighting, with a forthright, open, statement on his club's future, now only partly in the hands of himself and fellow directors.

Today he took time out to meet Evening Star Editor, Nigel Pickover, to give one of the most frank, emotional and combative interviews of his career.

He details his:

*Huge concern for the club's creditors and their plight.

*Hope that the club will be out of administration in four to eight weeks

*Belief that there will be player sales if Town don't win promotion.

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*Plans for various share options for fans and big business if there is no promotion.

Q: The news of administration is desperately sad for all concerned - how has it hit you and the club in the last 18 hours?

A: I am utterly miserable. We have been fighting to avoid administration for nine months and now it has arrived it has hurt everyone, it is a stigma. It is very regrettable, first and foremost for our creditors, to whom we have a legal responsibility. The pressure on us all has been intense - but, in one way, it is almost good to have got to this bleak, public, position - we've got there and now we've got to get out of it.

Q: A couple of years ago, when you were seriously ill in hospital, many people were worried about your long-term health. How are you bearing up at the moment?

A: I'm OK, this is not a time to feel sorry for yourself. I feel very much for others. I'm keeping fit and my wife, Mona and (daughter) Sophie and (son) Tom have been hugely supportive. I take it all very personally when it goes wrong, as many people have remarked. I'm physically fine, it's in the heart that it weighs the heaviest.

Q:With everything that has been going on, have you thought "is this really worth it?" and pondered on packing it all in?

A: Other than the odd moment, being a human being, the answer is no. I love this club with a passion, with every sinew. My family worries about what this devotion is doing to me. My passion for ITFC is all-consuming. I won't be able to do it forever but I have to see us through this darkest hour. It is not a time to walk away. I'll do my damnedest to lead this club to safety.

Q:And how has the news been taken by your colleagues at the club? Are the directors all well and united as one voice?

A: Everyone is united in the cause, we have a united board, colleagues who are very supportive. Stability at times like this is all important. Nobody on the board is there for the money - it's because they love the club. This is the biggest challenge the club has ever faced and we have to stick together to get us out of this. As John Kerr said last night, people can help a great deal, they can swell the gates, they can use of conference facilities, buy the club's merchandise.

Q: Looking back a little, there have been serious financial warnings over many months, particularly in our own paper, The Evening Star, Is there anything else that could have been done to stave off administration?

A: There have been a combination of circumstances beyond our control, in the last few weeks, I knew if we were unable to make a sale, then it would come to this. The whole board has been wrestling with the problem and concentrating on it.If you lose £15 million income( from relegation) and you have the transfer market stripped from under your feet, then where else do you get the money? Normally you go to City institutions but football is a dirty word in the City and there are no big benefactors around for Ipswich Town - I know I've been looking for them.

Q: Couldn't you have seen all this coming?

A: No. There are two points here:

1)You always have to have a strategy for the worst scenario, we believed we had enough player assets to sell if worst came to worst. But worst came and was beyond worse with the transfer market collapsing.

2)We were profitable in the Premier League - and, potentially profitable after relegation but we have been victims of an amazing set of circumstances, which see so unfair. Every roll of the dice has gone against us.

We hope to be out of administration in four to eight weeks and we'll do all we can for our creditors, linking our success to our payments to them.

Q: In truth, has the biggest burden has been the wages of players?

A: Two factors have done us. On the income side, we have lost Premiership income but retained a Premiership cost base. On the cost side there have been player contracts. In the Post Bosman era it was good sense to protect the value of players by having good contracts. But now that has been turned on its head and assets have become liabilities.

Q: Your statement discusses the problem of player sales that didn't materialise - as well as the season-long loans of Sereni and Le Pen. Is there a danger they will return and add to the problems already discussed?

A: If we are promoted to the Premiership then great, it not, then we are not out of the woods and there will be a needs for further action,in this order:

1)The wage bill will be substantially reduced

2)There will have to be transfer income

3)There will have be a sensible level of income from the supporter base

Q: And what of season tickets?

A: One of the things that concerns me greatly, if we were not promoted, is the position with season tickets.We need our season ticket holders to sign up again in huge numbers. We had over 19,000 this season and that speaks volumes for the way in which Ipswich Town is in people's blood. People believed we would going straight back up this season but if we don't - and we have to part with some of our favourite players - then fans may be up in arms. We need to stress that supporting Town is something for the long-term.

Q: You talked of money from the supporter base, can you elaborate?

A: There are three ways this can happen.

1) We will ask our existing shareholders to increase their investment.

2)We can create new shares, different categories of shares, which will encourage wider share ownership.

3)We be looking for more substantial investment in the business from the business community.

Q: There have been redundancies, players and staff have taken wage cuts or deferrals, some staff have moved on? Have you and your fellow directors taken any of the burden?

A: The non-executive directors don't get paid at all. I took a 10% wage deferral and so did Derek (Bowden, chief executive) on the day he joined and I also took a 40% pay cut last year (his bonus). I now get paid less than the chief executive.

Q: You have other business interests and directorships - are you now devoting yourself full-time to the cause?

A: I am involved with my brother in Suffolk Foods but am no longer chairman of Vibe FM which was taken over. I'm on the Football League board and now also the FA board but I'm here every single day, from 9.00am until 7.00am -7.30pm. I'm here every day. My primary motivation on the Football League is that I'm angry about our plight - and that of other clubs and I will fight for change. You can't keep relegating clubs into financial ruin, there have been clubs like Derby and Leicester and now Ipswich in this position but next it might be West Ham or Sunderland. I understand there may be around six Premiership clubs in the intensive care unit

Q:You have a new position on the Football League - are you keeping this?

A: Yes, my frustration is at the huge gap that has grown between Premiership and First Division clubs. It is unsustainable.

Q: What about the army of local businesses that support the club. If they are owed money, is their position safe?

A: The first challenge is to gain creditor backing and complete the CVA (Company Voluntary Agreement). The first equal priority is to gain complete public support and to overcome and blame culture over relegation. We need people to rally round - it is our best chance of survival.

Q: Turning to your suppliers/creditors, what assurances can you give them?

A: We'll have an awful lot of calls from suppliers and they will, rightly, be put on to the administrators who are scrupulously fair. The formula for repayment will be linked to the success of the club. If promoted we hope there will be further repayment to unsecured creditors

Q:What of your own staff?

A: We addressed them before the press conference and tried to assure them that whilst there is a horrible stigma now, this is the beginning of a solution, not the beginning of the end. This is not like some administrations, we had already made the cuts (in January) before the administrators arrived. Ipswich Town is built on its players and its people, we depend on them.

Q: Will there be any price rises to face i.e merchandise in the shops, the programme, the cost of match-day food?

A: It is a little to early to say, nobody is looking for the fans to pay more, goodness football is expensive enough. The way to help us is through the turnstiles, the shops and by using our facilities. We're soon to release details of our new website, Ipswich World, which we hope will have a subscriber base.

Q: As a football chairman you are in the unenviable position of being a fan fuelled largely by passion and a businessman who has to make bold decisions. Has this been a handicap?

A: No,on the contrary, it helps to give me a perception, to make decisions which are right for the club.

Q:Unlike almost any other business, your every move is under the scrutiny of the media and 25,000 equally passionate fans on a Saturday. How have you coped with this pressure?

A: I hope I have coped well but the fan bit in me has dulled a little in the last nine months, I can tell you.

Q: You must have known the storm clouds were overhead when the team stormed back to beat Sheffield United 3-2 on Saturday. How did you feel at 4.50pm?

A: A lot better than I did at 4.15 when Dean Windass scored United's second goal. I leaped higher than anyone in the stadium when Darren (Bent) scored the winner.

Q: In all the gloom, there have been some real bright spots, some hopes for the future. Can we start with Joe Royle?

A: I'm thrilled that, despite all the pressure that we have been able to attract me of the stature and quality of Joe Royle and Willie to the club. All credit to the way they have gone about their jobs in recent weeks.

Joe is a leader in every sense of the word, a most engaging character, using all his expertise to maximise our chances of promotion. He has been tremendous, he has pulled the dressing room together. I wish, as chairman that we could give Joe the money we were able to give George (burley). Joe has one hand tied behind his back - he's doing a remarkable job to re-mould our team, one which will mount a formidable challenge.

Q:You are on record as saying you and the directors (even with hindsight) might not do things so differently. But in reality, if Town do go up - how would you approach the next stay in the top flight?

A: There is no easy panacea, promotion is the best cure to our ills. The new market conditions suggest that we would be more circumspect next time, that we would drink from a smaller cup.

Q: Many people, who devote their lives to the love and support of ITFC, are very worried right now. What do you say to them today?

A: Thank you for your unswerving support. I'm really sorry we are in this position, we're doing everything we can to preserve this special, unique, club of ours in these unprecedented, adverse market conditions. I can only appeal to all supporters to stick together and to back the club in its hour of need.Ultimately, I'm confident that we'll recover.